LUSAIL, Qatar – For a long time after the final whistle, Luis Chavez was hunched painfully on the field.

He had just scored in Mexico’s fierce World Cup survival bid, but it wasn’t enough to beat Saudi Arabia 2-1 on Wednesday. Argentina’s 2-0 victory over Poland in the same match saw Mexico fail to advance from their group for the first time since 1978.

“We had a chance to qualify,” Chavez said glumly. “We didn’t make it.”

In the last seven World Cups, Mexico has reached the knockout round, second only to Brazil, which has reached the round of 16 since 1986.

El Tri went into the match at the Estadio Lusail needing both a win and help from Poland, who played Argentina, to advance in Group C. Argentina’s win meant the goal difference started – and Mexico didn’t have enough.

Mexico’s Kevin Alvarez reacts after the World Cup Group C soccer match between Saudi Arabia and Mexico at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022.

Photo by AP/Manu Fernandes

Henry Martin scored in the 48th minute to give El Tri hope, and the team’s chances got even better when Chavez scored from a free-kick four minutes later.

Mexico desperately tried to score another goal in the final 20 minutes – including Uriel Antuna’s 87th-minute strike that was ruled offside – but came up short.

“We needed another goal. I didn’t know exactly what happened at the end,” said Mexico’s veteran goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, playing in his fifth World Cup. “Our goal was to score three or four goals. It’s a shame.”

Salem Aldawsari scored in second-half stoppage time for Saudi Arabia, who were eliminated along with Mexico despite beating Argentina in their opening match.

Martin’s goal ended Mexico’s 431-minute World Cup goal drought dating back to the second group match of the 2018 tournament in Russia. It was the team’s longest goalless streak of the tournament.

Mexico opened the tournament in Qatar with a 0-0 draw against Poland, but lost 2-0 to Lionel Messi and Argentina.

Mexico have not been eliminated from the group stage since the World Cup in Argentina 44 years ago. El Tri failed to qualify for the 1982 World Cup in Spain and were banned from the 1990 tournament in Italy for using over-age players in the under-20 tournament.

“I have to say that I take full responsibility for this massive failure,” Mexico coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said.

Mexico have reached the last 16 in their last seven matches – but no further. El Tri came to Qatar to play in the elusive ‘quinto partido’ – the fifth game – for the first time since Mexico hosted the tournament in 1986.

Saudi Arabia beat Argentina 2-1 in one of the biggest upsets of the tournament. But in the second match, the Green Falcons failed to pull off another surprise, losing 2-0 to Poland.

The Saudis reached the round of 16 back in 1994 in their World Cup debut, but have not progressed beyond the group stage since.

“It was hard to breathe tonight with the intensity that Mexico put into the match,” said Saudi Arabia coach Hervé Renard.

Many of the Saudi Arabian team were also part of the team that went to the World Cup 2018. But none play outside their home country. Twelve players from Al Hilal, who have won a record 18 Saudi Arabian championships.

Mexico dominated the first half. Arbelin Pineda had one of the best of three good chances for El Tri, but was easily saved by Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Mohamed Alouwais in the 25th minute.

The game quickly turned in Mexico’s favor with Martin’s goal, but the celebration was muted. Chavez’s free-kick in the 52nd, which hit the top corner just beyond the reach of Alovais, forced Mexico’s reserves onto the pitch.

Hirving Lozano almost scored a third goal, but it was ruled offside. Chavez had another free kick that went wide as Mexico tried in vain to score more goals.

Martin was sharply criticized for the lack of points. He has already been questioned about some of his choices, including his decision to leave all-time leading scorer Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez out of the team.

Hernandez, who now plays for LA Galaxy in Major League Soccer, scored the team’s final goal in a 2-1 group stage win against South Korea in Russia.

After the match, Martino announced that his contract with Mexico ended at the final whistle.

However, Ochoa was not ready to say whether he would remain with the team in 2026, when Mexico, the United States and Canada host the World Cup.

“We’ll see. We’ll see,” Ochoa said. “I’m sad today, so I have to think about it. But maybe it could happen.”

Copyright © 2022, The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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